“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing.”
Who said that? That is a false statement. Blacks suffer from mental illness just like their white counterparts. In fact, when you think of everyday stressors, systematic-racism such as police brutality, education and health care gaps, and sexism that impacts black women, blacks are more likely to be at risk for developing a mental condition.
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and this is a perfect time to shed light on what many deem as nonexistent problem. Schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, dissociative identity disorder/multiple personality disorder, bulimia, ADHD, OCD and social anxiety are examples of mental illnesses that people battle daily. In the black community, many choose not to acknowledge mental illness as a sickness. Diseases such as diabetes and cancer are accepted as normal and natural, but what so many fail to realize is that blacks are no different than any other race when it comes to these illnesses. We are not exempt from mental illness.
While some experience mental illness only once in their life (depending on the illness, environment, life stressors, and genetics), others battle mental illness for the rest of their lives. Some of us think that we do not have a problem and truly believe that everyone else is the issue. Unfortunately, these myths and illusions force us to suffer in silence and not seek treatment. Mental illness affects “everyday functional” people and it is not limited to the homeless man talking to himself. It impacts a person’s emotions, perception, and behaviors.
As a person with major depression and generalized anxiety disorders, the comments said to me have been heartbreaking and mind-blowing because it prevented me from seeking help. I thought that I was making it up in my head even though I didn’t feel well for years. Finally diagnosed at 25, my doctor stated that the illness started around the age of 13. Can you imagine having cancer without being diagnosed for over 10 years? You would die. Well, I can tell you that I was dying on the inside and it led to multiple suicide attempts. My illness can get so debilitating. At one point, it stopped me from doing basic things such as going to work, talking, eating and showering.
Here are some of the myths that we must stop saying!
Myth #1: Only white people commit suicide.
Fact: According to by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate of black children in between the ages of 5 and 11 doubled between 1993 and 2013 and the rate among white children committing suicide declined. Suicides by hanging nearly tripled among black boys. While whites still have highest suicide rates in the country, suicide rates among black youth have significantly grown over the past decade. Unfortunately, black youth are killing themselves more frequently than their elders. Suicide has become the third leading cause of death among black people between the ages of 15 and 24 and a leading cause of death among school-aged children younger than 12 years in the United States.
Myth #2: Medication doesn’t work and/or they make you feel worse.
Fact: Medication is necessary for some individuals in their mental recovery. While they are NOT cures for mental illness, they are vital for treating the symptoms. Some may need medication for the rest of their lives (depending on the illness) and others only need it for a specific time. Nonetheless, medication is not a sign of weakness and it does not mean the person is crazy. It is no different from taking medication for high blood pressure or insulin for diabetes. Just like the body gets sick, the brain gets sick too, if you don’t take care of it. And no, this is not to say that everyone with a mental illness will need medication, but it is an invaluable help to many.
Myth #3: Black people don’t go to therapy.
Fact: Though there has been a deep-rooted stigma about seeking therapy, Blacks are increasingly seeking therapy for mental illness. Therapy is great whether you have a mental illness or not. Therapy helps you to work on yourself, dissect problems, face fears and overcome obstacles such as breakups, loss of a loved one, financial challenges, self-image issues, abuse, etc. As mentioned previously, blacks deal with oppression daily and therapy can help us work through it. Those who are still hesitant to try therapy can look into other ways of getting help. The support of a life coach has also been shown to be beneficial for many.
Myth #4: You can pray it away.
Fact: As a Christian, I have seen God perform miracles in my life. But when you say to a person “just pray,” you are assuming that they are not praying and dismissing how they feel, challenging the sincerity of their faith, and most likely preventing them from getting treatment. You would not say “just pray” to a person who broke a leg. You would tell them to go to the doctor for an x-ray and cast. We must treat mental illness the same. God also gives us resources to use on earth and sometimes that may be therapy and medication when a person is battling a mental illness.
Damian Waters is a marriage and family therapist in Upper Marlboro, MD, where he serves predominantly African American clients. On the issue of the stigma surrounding blacks seeking therapy, he says, “There’s some shame and embarrassment. You’ll tell someone that you went to the doctor, but you won’t tell that you went to the counselor or psychiatrist. Also, there is the idea that their faith should carry them through, though often their problems are larger than that.”
As a way to honor those with mental illness, please think before you speak, and encourage those who need help to seek treatment. Mental illness is just as serious as any other disease and those affected by it should not be judged or outcast. Mental illness is a flaw in brain chemistry, not a character flaw, or a white people problem.
Can you think of other myths surrounding Blacks and mental illness? Share them below along with your thoughts on putting the myths to rest once and for all.
You never do anything nice for me!
When is the last time you bought me a gift?!
You never spend time with me anymore!
Do any of these phrases sound familiar to you? Perhaps they bring back a memory of an argument you and your significant other recently had?
The argument begins with something small, escalates into a blame game, and before you know it, you don’t remember what you were originally arguing about. I will be the first to say that I have been down this road many times. And, as a seasoned traveler of this road, I am here to tell you that no one feels good after these arguments.
Everyone sometimes feels hurt, confused, and worthless, like they are not good enough for their partner, like they deserve better, or whatever other unhappy feeling you want to “insert here.” Nobody wins.
As humans, we are selfish by nature. We are born selfish. In fact, selflessness is a trait that we have to learn over time. Naturally, we think “me, me, me.”
“What do I need? What do I want?”
This way of thinking transfers over into our relationships if we aren’t careful. We begin to think about whether or not our spouse has met our needs, instead of thinking about how we can meet their needs. And, if we think our needs haven’t been met, we feel it is our duty to tell our spouse about how they aren’t meeting our needs and that they should “do better.”
This may result in myriad reactions: your spouse becomes defensive, your spouse spits back what needs of theirs you aren’t meeting as well, your spouse feels worthless, your spouse shuts down, or your spouse apologizes and actually “does better.”
Unfortunately, the latter is less likely to happen. What is likely to happen is an argument that escalates quickly – leading to both parties feeling hurt, angry, or even resentful.
The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words ( Proverbs 15:28).
I imagine that if you and I were sitting down to a cup of coffee and I were sharing this with you, you would respond with, “But, you don’t understand my wife/husband! They don’t do (insert complaint here)! I need to tell them how they aren’t treating me the way I deserve to be treated!”
I would respond by asking the following: “Is telling your partner about themselves helping anything? No? Well, have you prayed about it, instead?”
Pray about it? Yes, pray about it. God calls us to be bringers of peace to our relationships and to avoid conflict. Remember that the power of life and death are in the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
Every time we are complaining about our partners, we are speaking death to our relationships. We have the power to bring life to our relationships with our tongues instead. We can do this through prayer and by speaking direct words of affirmation over our significant others.
Next time you are tempted to tell your spouse what they “need to do” for you, try affirming them in that very area you feel as though they are lacking.
For example, instead of saying, “You never take it upon yourself to do the laundry. Why can’t you do more to help out around here?” Say, “Thank you so much for all that you do to keep our house in order. I appreciate you!”
Those powerful words just spoke the actions into your spouse that you wish to see more often. Then, in your private prayer time, ask The Lord to show your partner how important it is to you that he or she pitch in around the house.
God cares about the small details. And, He will honor you for coming to Him instead of igniting a quarrel in the relationship.
After praying, serve. Serve your spouse. Remember, that is what God calls us to do in our marriage. Marriage is just two people who are servants in love.
If you are wondering how you are supposed to serve your spouse, it is written right here in Colossians 3:18-19:
Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting with the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
When you serve your spouse, you fill them up with the love of the Holy Spirit. When we are filled with the love of the Holy Spirit, we are filled with the fruits of the Spirit, and when we are filled with the fruits of the Spirit, our relationships will result in less conflict.
Friends, marriage and relationships are hard work. It takes hard work to decide to be selfless every day. It takes hard work to serve your spouse when it is very possible that your own needs haven’t been met.
It takes work to pray for your spouse when you’re in the heat of an argument. It takes work to choose NOT to say something the next time you feel frustrated or conflicted. But, that work is so worth it. Take it from someone who’s been there.
I used to choose the selfish route. Now, I choose the selfless route. And, as a result, I am more in love with my husband today than I was when I married him.
We have been privileged to live in a generation that has mastered the art of multitasking, being able to do multiple things at the same time and excelling. You really have to, otherwise, life will pass you by.
Sometimes the news changes so fast that if you wait too long, you are outdated. Have you ever been in a situation where you did not check your phone all day, and by the time you turned it on, it seemed as though you were on a different planet because so much had happened? That is the gift of living in a world of possibilities. Everything is possible and anything can happen. The sky is the limit.
Limitation presents itself in a very cunning way in our lives. For some, it begins at a young age through criticism from a parent or guardian, a teacher or peers that begin to conform your mind to think a certain way.
Or, it could be the environment that you are first exposed to. Unfortunately, depending on the zip code that you reside in, it can determine the kind of privileges that are afforded to you.
Limitation can enter your life through rejection, a lack of acceptance, where you never fit in and regardless of how kind you try to be, or all the things you try to do, you just never measure up. Therefore, you feel limited, constrained, suffocated and blocked.
Limitation could be geographical. The opportunities that could bring a breakthrough in your life may not be at the proximity of where you are currently located. Moving out of that geographical region would be coming out of that box of limitation and pursuing something that could change your life.
The mistakes that we make is stepping into these boxes of limitation that are presented to us daily in our lives and getting comfortable. We take our pity party pillow, and our “poor old me” throws, find a nice corner to hibernate, and hope that Jesus will come down and rescue us from our misery.
I love the Bible because it is a wonderful and precious book filled with verbs. God is all about movement, action, and purpose.
In the book of Genesis, our first encounter with God, is His interaction with an earth that was void and filled with darkness. That did not intimidate Him or make Him cower back. Instead, His Spirit “moved” upon the face of the waters.
Genesis 1:2 KJV
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
Your life may be filled with void and darkness, but guess what God wants you to do? MOVE!
I created an acronym for the word MOVE to push me during those times that I sense limitation is looming over me, trying to push me down a dungeon of hopelessness.
Sometimes you have to look at life as a classroom that you show up to master and excel in every lesson presented. By the time we get to verse 31 in Genesis 1, God had taken the earth that was void and made it to be very good. You have to take your void situation, be motivated by purpose and create the environment that makes it very good.
Genesis 1:31 KJV
31 And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
Instead of throwing a glamorous pity party and sending out beautiful invitations to host limitation in your life, I suggest:
1. Returning the limitation box back to the sender
Just the way you return mail that is not yours, you do not have to receive projections of limitations that are said to you, thrown at you, or even perceived by you from others. You have the power to control what you receive. Learn how to reject that which will limit your progress. Let it “talk to the hand!”
2. Follow God’s role model
The first thing that God did was move. He was not concerned about how things looked, He got busy creating. He got busy with purpose. Instead of complaining about what is wrong and how unfair life may be (which may be true), get busy moving into purpose and finding out why you are here. Passivity is a hobby that many take up, waiting for a change that may never come. You are the agent that triggers the change you are praying for.
3. Believe in yourself
There comes a point of decision and reckoning that you are unique. You have to begin investing in self-affirmation ministry to yourself and build up the confidence muscles that may be feeble in you. You may have to cry sometimes and that is okay, but after crying let there be purpose in your tears. The greatest gift that you can give yourself is to refuse to be limited and live a life that is open to receive all that God has for you.
Help me with the daily struggle of limitation that overwhelms me. If I have limited myself and allowed sabotage in my life, or refuse to step on the platforms that You bring to me, forgive me. I give myself permission to succeed. I look to You for confidence, and I receive the boldness to walk into purpose and the liberty of being myself. That is a gift, a precious gift that I ask You to help me guard. The gift of being me. Thank You God for making me, me.
The first memory I have of watching pornography is when I was 11 years old. It’s amazing that I didn’t even have the vocabulary to describe what I was witnessing, yet the innocence of my brain and body were gone in an instant.
I didn’t know it then, but my body and mind were awakened to a world of sexual stimulants that I was never made to endure. According to an article by the New York Times, 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to online pornography during their adolescence. This is an issue that goes beyond the church walls.
Porn addiction is more than mere videos or online seductions. Pornography is defined as the “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.”
It can be easy to say, “Well, since I don’t watch these videos or go to these websites, I don’t have a problem.” Wrong. How many times have I written off the absurdly graphic sexual encounters described in various books as pure literature or even worse, entertainment? They are stimulants that create a very real reaction.
My sexual education came from an awkward 5th grade class, an even more awkward 8th grade health class, pornography, and friends who were sexually active. The only times I can remember hearing about sex in church were once in a Sunday School class where the teacher said she could tell just by looking who has had sex, and a few relationship/marriage talks.
As the good Christian girl, I pledged to stay abstinent until marriage. However, my seemingly perfect chastity was made murky by the secret I kept.
When I was 19, I had an encounter with God that changed my life. Long story short, I decided enough was enough and I had to give my life to Jesus—my entire life. I knew I would be different from that moment on. I mean, Jesus had my heart so all of my bad habits left immediately, right? Wrong.
A few months after that, I found myself in a room by myself watching porn. Although something had changed… I realized there was a pattern for why and when I watched porn.
Shame. Fear. Control.
There’s an amazing ministry called Restoring the Foundations. They are trained to identify and help mend different hurts one collects as a byproduct of being a human.
One of the things they examine is the cycle of shame, fear, and control. The cycle goes something like this: A person feels shame for something they’ve done, they’re afraid of being discovered, so they try to control the situation themselves.
The clearest example of this is Adam and Eve in Genesis. They ate the fruit they were told not to eat, they were ashamed, they were fearful of being discovered, so they tried to control the situation by fashioning for themselves makeshift clothes to cover their nakedness.
Shame, as opposed to guilt, attaches itself to a person’s identity. It’s the difference between saying “I made a mistake” and saying “I am a mistake.” This is how I approached pornography.
There would be a trigger, mainly an emotional trigger, something that made me feel lonely or afraid. Then, I would engage with porn. Afterwards, I was ashamed.
I wasn’t the good girl everyone thought I was. I tried to control the situation myself. I tried so hard to be perfect on the outside to veil the mess that was inside. I could only control the situation until another emotional trigger set the cycle off over and over again. This pattern also illuminated that porn was just the symptom of a bigger problem.
Where do we go from here?
- Learn your triggers. After I recognized the triggers that sent me running to the counterfeit embrace pornography offers, I could preempt my reaction to run to porn. Instead, I ran to God.
- Ask for help. This will never get old. The thing about shame is, it breeds in darkness. It festers in your deepest thoughts. It feeds off of the lies you believe about yourself. Identify safe people you can ask for help. You weren’t made to live life alone. Above all, ask God for help. The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in you. That’s a pretty stacked deck.
- Accept the fact that you are loved. I elevated the shame I felt over the truth of God. According to Him, nothing can separate me from His love that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8). According to Him, I am chosen. According to Him, I am forgiven.
For more statistics and help with combating porn addiction, visit fightthenewdrug.org.
It’s time to raise our fists and build our momentum to fight against the stereotypical, dead-beat dad. Not the selfish, under-loving, narcissistic, self-proclaimed kings that are fathers at tax season and ghost during the year. The fathers who actually want to be ever-present in their children’s lives, but many women keep them at bay and force them to identify as dead-beats.
Oftentimes we hear about the vindictive SSM (Salty Single Mom) who feeds into an unfortunate, cultural stigma with the law at her advantage to satisfy the vengeance of her heart. And as a result of this, there are men who want to be dedicated fathers but are labeled as dead-beats by the SSM. And the worst part is the children suffer the most.
Now let’s be clear, this is not bashing the PSM (Powerful Single Mother) who is often forced to be both parents due to the absentee father. However, in this era of heavy women empowerment many members of our community often forget our men and seemingly render them unnecessary, which teaches our sons to fall back and not be the men we want them to be.
As women, we cannot continuously shame the willing fathers of our children, and then punish them for becoming what they were forced to become, worthless. Despite any conflict between these men and the SSM, we have to take a closer look at the dedicated fathers that have become who they can be in their child’s life.
What Has Daddy Become?
The Redeemed Father: After a bitter end to a relationship, this father will leave to seemingly never return, thus birthing a PSM. However, upon clarity, he returns to reestablish a healthy relationship with his child/children and cooperative relationship with the mother. This is usually met with apprehension because the PSM believes he does not want to pay child support, which is highly likely. Nevertheless, the father will make multiple attempts to repair the relationship so that he can be in his child’s life.
The Fight or Flight Father: When the relationship between the parents is toxic, this father leaves and is baited back into the relationship for access to the child/children. The household is usually shared and the SSM uses the needs of the children to draw the father back into the home. Unfortunately, with any argument, the father leaves and the mother begins a tirade of whining and threatening legal action such as child support or sole custody. Fortunately, when the father is home he is 100% dedicated to his children’s needs, but when he is gone his devotion is sporadic due to the nature of the relationship with the SSM.
The Gatsby Father: This theory is based off the book The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, in which the main character Jay Gatsby throws elaborate parties to hopefully catch the attention of the love of his life. A Gatsby father is painted as allusive and inattentive by the SSM so that the children do not miss him. However, the father creates big situations such as social gatherings, theme park trips, gift giving and more that are tangible ‘peacock’ methods to show their devotion and love. Although this father is aware that gifts and spoiling are not the only way to show affection, these situations allow them a chance to have brief intimate moments with their child/children.
The Solo Soldier: According to the U.S. Census Bureau only 31.4 % of fathers have custody of their children, especially if they cannot prove the mother is unfit to be a full-time parent. In this circumstance, the SSM creates dramatic and spiteful situations that keep the child/children away from the father. Yet, through relentless communication, court battles, and meet-ups, this father will fight to have his child/children in order to protect them from any backlash from the SSM. The best example of this type of father is the character Monty James, played by Idris Elba, in Daddy’s Little Girls.
Elle is a Gatsby Father who has five children and is settling his divorce. The mother has requested assistance, to which he adhered to willingly. However he is, unfortunately, met with public raging fits when the mother does not get what she wants. This forces Elle to schedule outings and activities to provide a reason to see his children and prove that he is a provider and loves them.
“It seems like when Dad isn’t doing what mom wants him to do for her, then the children in turn are shifted to think Dad isn’t doing right by them either,” Elle explains somberly.
“I’ve even been told by my daughter, who lives in an apartment that I pay 75% of the rent for, ‘You can’t tell me what to do because you don’t pay any bills around here!’ These various interactions have helped me to understand that my children suffer at the hands of their mother who cannot put aside her gripes to build a peaceful and amicable pact on behalf of our children who depend on our guidance. My prayer is that most of [our] conflicts can be discussed openly with them in a way that doesn’t criminalize either Mom or Dad.”
The Law of Paternity
One of the many gripes that fathers who are no longer with their child’s mother have is the misuse of child support, in addition to limited access to children. Adrienne Holland, founder and CEO of the non-profit family law firm Holland Family Services, gave some insight on how child support works and what fathers may be unaware of when it comes to their paternal rights.
“Child support is meant for the benefit of the child,” Adrienne explains. “But, part of that are intangibles such as car insurance, electricity, cell phones etc., that the mother needs to function fully as a parent and person. It is the duty of the father to pay child support whether or not the father sees his child. That’s not to say that I don’t see mothers that withhold time-sharing out of spite. Usually, when this happens it is less about revenge and more of an unrealistic fear that a father cannot care for the child.”
What Matters Most
Despite the legal and emotional battle that comes with custody, parents seem to forget that what matters most is the child. In today’s culture, a broken home does not always mean Mom and Dad aren’t together, it means Mom and Dad lack a healthy, co-parenting relationship and the child(ren) pays for it.
Ending the cycle of fatherless children or toxic childhoods starts with the decision to be different. Mekesha Young, PSM of 15-year-old daughter, left a toxic relationship for the safety of her child and had this to say about the unrelenting SSM:
“You cannot control the situation, but you can change your perspective and attitude,” Mekesha says passionately. “It’s all about perspective. Once you realize that your child(ren) are the seeds of the future and you (the [custodial] parent) are the example, it should empower you to plant seeds of life and not destruction.”
It should be a cultural standard to teach our children how to deal with disappointment and heartbreak, but not get stuck in a bitter mentality that fuels the dead-beat cycle.
THE CHARGE TO WOMEN
Among all that a woman carries, should they have to shoulder the angst of an absent father’s irresponsibility? The answer is NO! However, it is the charge of the woman to eliminate the dead-beat mentality from their child’s psyche so that they do not repeat the same mistakes.
That starts with women forgiving the men that broke their hearts, enough to show their child that life does go on and a broken home is only one that is unloving and uncooperative.
While there are men who are careless as fathers, their error cannot be used as a blanket statement for all fathers who no longer desire a romantic relationship with the mother. Sometimes relationships don’t work out, but it never justifies removing the necessary love of a father from a child’s life.
By allowing a father to be in his child’s life, that does not take the ‘power’ away from the PSM; in fact, it shows the most important lesson a child could learn, respect.
Here are some ways (unmarried/uncoupled) fathers can protect their parental rights:
- Establish paternity by signing an affidavit of paternity from their state’s office of vital statistics.
- Make an agreement with the mother for time-sharing and monetary support and get it in writing before the child is born; if they don’t have a written support and time arrangement, they should keep a written log with receipts and dates that details the time and money spent.
- Go to the collection entity or the court and put yourself on child support at any time.
- Go to mediation or a parenting coordinator without a lawyer to help resolve disputes about parenting without involving the court.
- Ask attorneys to use collaborative methods to settle the case even if the couple was never married.
- Get an official DNA test (Note: Over-the-counter DNA tests are not admissible in court).
- If the father is unhappy with the mother’s performance as a parent, they can file a Petition to Modify/Establish Time Sharing Plan and Other Related Relief, which results in him having most of the time with his children. This can only be done after legally establishing paternity.